While it might not always feel like it, happiness is a choice. And with a growing mountain of data linking it to health and longevity, it just might be the most important choice you make all day. But before the eyes roll and the middle finger flies, hear us out. Because while life might be throwing some very real unhappy curve balls your way, you still have the power to right the ship, right now. Read on to find out how.
Squash the ANTs
Automatic Negative Thoughts don’t mean to be a buzzkill–they’re actually trying to save us from being kill-killed. Humans have evolved to scan our lives (or savannahs) for potential problems (or predators) to avoid, thwart or destroy, in order to survive. And even though most of us don’t live on the savannah anymore, the thoughts persist. Only now, they’re a bit more abstract. Maybe the roar of the lion has become a deafening chorus of self-doubt, or the bloodthirsty hyena has morphed into a second skin of shame. Or perhaps your automatic negative thought is something much more straightforward, like, “these bangs make me look like an adult toddler.” Whatever the ANT, trust us, it’s not serving you. So how to squash them?
Mind your Mind
First, become aware. Often negative thoughts happen so quickly that we’re not even cognizant of having them. Since, though it sounds strange to say, paying attention to your mind all day can be close to impossible, try this trick: Next time you find yourself feeling unhappy, trace back your thoughts. Chances are one negative thought led to another to another to pull you smack dab into your current puddle of gloom. Of course, negative thoughts often originate from legit problems, but playing them on repeat in the Spotify of your psyche isn’t going to help a thing. Instead, do some forensics.
After you’ve identified the thought that’s bumming you out, it’s time to see if it stands up to some hardball questioning. Ask yourself:
- Where’s the evidence? Is your negative thought truly based in reality, or is it the result of another unhelpful thought pattern, such as trying to read someone else’s mind or telling the future? Life is precious–don’t ruin your day on a hunch. And remember, other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. Oh, and stay in your lane… You get the idea.
- What’s another take? Pretend for a moment your current problem is a scene in a movie. How could it be rewritten to allow for another point of view? If you’re thinking, “I’m terrible at public speaking,” maybe the takeaway is that you thrive in intimate conversations. If your negative thought is, “I’m failing at my job,” perhaps the takeaway is that you value trying your very best. Every negative thought has a positive takeaway. Search it out.
- What would you tell a friend? Put down the whip for a moment and cut yourself some slack. What would you say to a friend that had the same problem? If you want to change, try being kind to yourself. As the saying goes, you’ll catch more flies–and ANTS–with honey.
It’s not exactly breaking news that those who exercise are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those who don’t. But now we know that getting your heart rate up can make psychologically healthy people happier–and it doesn’t take much. In a metadata review of 23 studies analyzing happiness and exercise, researchers at the University of Michigan found a strong correlation between happiness and all kinds of exercise, whether it lasted for 10 minutes a day or an hour a week. And those who exercised at least 30 minutes a day on most days were 30% more likely to consider themselves happy than those who didn’t.
Often, trying to think ourselves out of a funk feeds our ruminating thoughts. When you find that happening, it’s time to stop, drop, and roll your mopey ass out the door. Spending time in nature is one of the quickest happiness hacks around. Studies show that spending just 15 minutes in a park or forest can decrease stress, while longer walks can reduce blood to the part of the brain associated with negative thought patterns and protect against depression.
Messy home, messy mind. Frequently, feeling unhappy is coupled with a lack of control, and while you might not have control over the thing that’s bumming you out, you can take control of your domain. No need to go full Marie Kondo either. Wipe a few windows, de-clutter your desk, do the dishes. These small acts will give you a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that’s kryptonite to unhappiness.
Get your hands on some L-theanine, an amino acid commonly found in non-herbal tea leaves and some mushrooms (including our organic black mushroom coffee). L-theanine boosts serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, an amino acid that blocks certain brain signals and decreases activity in the nervous system, producing a calming effect. Paired with caffeine it has been shown to improve cognitive performance and increase alertness so you can be happy and smart.
Stay in the Moment
C’mon, you didn’t think we’d wrap this up without a shout out to one of the best blues busters out there, did you? Meditation, mindfulness, being present–call it what you will, but the fact is, if you’re not living in the moment, there’s a much higher chance that you’re unhappy. In a sobering study, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that, on average, almost half of our thoughts are unrelated to what we’re doing–even when the activities we’re doing are considered enjoyable. How did they get this information? Through an iPhone app, of course! Throughout the day, participants in the study were randomly interrupted by their iPhone’s and asked what they were doing, what they were thinking about, and to rate their happiness from 1-10. The results were definitive: we are happiest when our thoughts are directly connected to the action or task at hand, even when the task isn’t considered necessarily pleasant (like ironing) and even when the mind imagines something infinitely more pleasant (like lying on a sunny beach). Simply put (and the title of the study), a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
And finally, we’ll leave you with this: So much of life is hard in the moment. (You make a mistake on the job. The Advil isn’t working. Your toddler is screaming at you.) But when you have a moment where it’s not actively pushing up against you, don’t waste it by worrying about it getting hard again. Don’t forecast the future. Don’t ruminate on the past. If you can manage to do this, your odds of being happier will drastically increase. Don’t believe us? Give it a try. Starting now.